to hear you whisper
 

Chapter 14: Consumed by the Fires

November 22, 1958

It wasn’t long before two cars full of teenagers were making the short drive through the rain back to Lisgard House.

Brian’s car pulled over at the beginning of the side lane of the mansion at Trixie’s request. She jumped out as soon as Mart opened the passenger side door, slamming it shut behind her before anyone could follow her out. But instead of running along the lane toward the house, she ran through the pouring rain to a side path that led to Zeke Collins’ cottage.

“Hey, watch it!” Mart exclaimed, his hand still on the door handle. But of course, Trixie hadn’t even heard him.

“She’s gone off to see Zeke alone?” Jim frowned as he asked the rhetorical question. He pushed against the back of Brian’s seat. “Open the door, Brian. One of us should go with her.”

“Let’s just wait here for her,” Honey suggested. “I don’t think she would’ve gone in there alone if she still suspected him.”

Brian was at the wheel and snorted at that. “Of course she would! She’d try to catch him red-handed somehow, never giving a thought to her own safety.”

“Exactly.” Jim’s sigh was audible, but he settled back into his own seat next to Honey.

She gave him a sympathetic glance and shrugged slightly. “You’ve got to trust her. I do.”

The flash of headlights caused Honey to turn her head, and she could see Dan’s car had pulled up behind them. He, Fay, Di, and Paul piled out of the Plymouth Belvedere and then huddled together by Brian’s Mercury, seemingly unmindful of the downpour, although Di had pulled her jacket over her head. 

Brian rolled down his window. “We’re waiting for Trixie, but only for a few minutes. If she’s not back in five, I’m going after her.”

We are going after her,” Jim corrected. 

“She might need more than five minutes, at that.” Mart opened the passenger door and gestured for the other group to come around. “Pile in, we’ll make room.”

It was a tight squeeze with four teens in the front and another four in the back. 

Dan had managed to sit next to Honey, although Fay was practically sitting on his lap. “Aw, Fay, get off me.” He pushed her gently to the side. “There’s plenty of room.”

She moved into the small space between Dan and the door with a bit of a pout. “Do we need to wait for Trixie or can’t we just go up to the house now?”

“We wait.” Honey frowned, wondering if they shouldn’t have followed her to Zeke’s cabin after all.

“Why are you so eager to go in there, Fay?” Di asked. “I mean, do you really think the séance will help you somehow?”

Fay nodded. “I know you probably think I’m crazy, but I really do feel like I may be possessed by Sarah Sligo. Maybe talking to her spirit will help me understand why—what it is she wants from me.”

Dan started to say something, but she cut him off before he could.

“Listen, Dan. You’ve already told me how you feel but you’re not in my shoes right now. I can’t sleep, I can’t hardly eat, and I think I’m going crazy. If that Mr. Hunter can help rid me of Sarah’s spirit, well, it would just be a huge relief.”

Brian frowned into the rearview mirror. “Fay, don’t you think there might be some other explanation for how you feel? Couldn’t all that be the result of a fake haunting, too?”

“It’s not fake!” Fay twisted a strand of dark hair around her fingers. “Oh, why won’t any of you believe me?”

Honey wasn’t sure how to respond to that. Anything she could think to say would likely aggravate Fay further. Apparently, the rest of the group felt the same as the uncomfortable silence continued. Only the rain tapping against the windows and their collective breathing in the cramped space could be heard.

Paul spoke up, startling Honey. “Do you have any idea what it is Trixie wanted to talk to Zeke about?”

Brian shook his head. “She didn’t say anything more in the car ride here, besides urging me to drive faster.”

“You know how Trixie is. When her mind is going through everything, she can’t slow down enough to explain it all.” Honey was still trying to figure out what Trixie obviously already had. “In short, we still don’t know anything.”

“Actually, I think we do know a couple of things.” Mart tried to twist around to face the back seat, but he was crammed between Brian and Paul. “She was talking about a painting, we found out Zeke is a painter, and she insisted on talking to Zeke.”

“So, she’s talking to Zeke about the Picasso?” Paul asked. “That makes sense, I guess. But if she suspects him of being a crook, why would she go to him directly? And alone?”

“Great questions,” Jim muttered. “I can’t wait to ask her.”

Brian was peering out the window at a figure coming towards them. “No need to wait. She’s back.”

He opened his door and Trixie immediately called out to the group huddled inside the jalopy. “Come on, everyone! Let’s get to that séance!”

The demands for what she had talked to Zeke about were ignored as she urged everyone along. Only Fay seemed as eager as the curly-haired sleuth to get to the house. Everyone else hung back a bit.

Dan took advantage of the distraction of everyone climbing out of the car to give Honey’s hand a quick squeeze. “Keep your eyes on Mr. Gregory,” he whispered. “I’ll be watching Fay.”

Only Mart overheard him and he nodded in approval. “My orbs will be peeled on Mr. Ghost-Hunter.”

 

Honey nearly gasped aloud when the teens entered the salon. She thought the house had been dark and gloomy before, but now the room had been decorated for the séance. Black cloth was draped over the walls, making the room even darker and gloomier than it had been previously—a feat Honey hadn’t even imagined was possible. A large round table had been brought into the room; it was also covered with black velvet and decorated with candles. The flames were burning steadily, but even between the candles and the chandelier, the room was still only dimly lit. A dozen chairs—collected from at least three different dining sets—were pushed in around the table, as evenly spaced as possible.

“Ah, good, you’re here.” Mr. Hunter gazed steadily at Fay. He was wearing his dark cloak, giving him a sinister air. “Are you ready to begin?”

As eager as she’d been to get to the séance, Fay now seemed hesitant. “I’m frightened, really, but if you think this will help, then yes, I’m ready.”

Moments later, the large group of teenagers were seated around the table along with Mr. Gregory and Mr. Hunter. They joined hands, and some of the participants closed their eyes. Honey glanced around at the faces, the candles casting eerie shadows on them all. She noticed Mr. Hunter watching her and quickly averted her gaze, not wanting to alert him to the fact that she was watching everything closely. 

There were no reporters. She guessed not even Paul Trent had taken the séance seriously.

Mr. Hunter started breathing deeply and rhythmically, until finally he let out one long slow breath. Then he opened his mouth and let out a slow, mournful sound. A marsh frog croaked in answer and almost caused Honey to giggle. Paul had been right—the whole thing was overly theatrical and maybe it was just her own nervousness, but she couldn’t bring herself to take it seriously.

Mr. Hunter finally spoke in a low, husky voice. “Are you there, Sarah?”

To Honey’s astonishment, Sarah answered. “I am here! And now ... at last ... my revenge!” A cackling laughter was followed by a cold blast of air.

On her left, Dan squeezed her hand, as if to urge her to keep calm. On her right, Trixie was studying everything carefully. With both of them remaining calm, she steadied her own nerves and reminded herself it was all staged. She looked around the room, trying to find the source of the air, but no windows were open.

The air shifted, causing the black cloth hung on the walls to billow towards them as the flames on the candles flickered wildly, some going out.

And then, Fay let out a shriek. A candle fell over, Honey wasn’t quite sure how, and one of the loosely draped fabric ends caught on fire. The next shriek Honey heard wasn’t Fay’s at all, it was coming from the ghost—supposed-ghost, she corrected in her mind, even as the flames continued to grow.

Fay’s already pale complexion had turned ashen as she jumped up from her seat. “She’s here! I’ve called Sarah here!” She turned to Mr. Hunter and clutched at his arm. “Make her stop! Please, can’t you make her stop?!”

“I’m afraid I can’t.” Mr. Hunter hadn’t even tried anything.

“We need to take care of this fire.” Jim had already gotten up and was trying to find a source of water. “Where’s the kitchen?”

“I think it’s this way,” Brian started heading toward one of the doors, leading the way.

One of the flames jumped higher, reaching for the ceiling. “Forget putting it out. It’s growing too quickly!” Mart hollered.

“Let’s just all get to safety,” Paul suggested, only a hint of panic in his voice as he tried to usher the girls out of the room. “Somebody call the fire department.”

“No. It’s too late!” Mr. Gregory shouted above the din. “The phone is still out of service. There’s no time anyway. With all this wood paneling, the house will be lost in no time.”

“Everybody out, now!” Dan helped Paul with Fay, who was still standing in shock.

Honey followed closely behind them, looking back at Trixie and the two men who still hadn’t made a move out of the room. “There’s too much smoke. We need to get out of here. Trixie?”

Mr. Hunter put his hand on Trixie’s elbow and guided her toward the door. “They’re right. It’s too late for the house. Everybody out.”

“If we don’t leave now, we’ll be burned alive, just like Sarah was. Her revenge, as she said.” Mr. Gregory followed behind.

Soon the whole group was gathered outside. The wail of sirens could be heard, first sounding far away but quickly growing louder.

“Is that—?” Mr. Gregory peered at Mr. Hunter, frowning.

But it was Trixie who answered. “The fire department. Thank goodness!”

“But that’s impossible! Who called them?” Mr. Hunter questioned.

From the smirk on Trixie’s face, Honey was sure she had called them. But how, and when? “Zeke Collins?” Honey whispered to her.

“That’s right. And here he comes now.” Trixie pointed to the white-haired man as he approached their group.

“Of all the rotten things for you to do, Lewis Gregory, setting fire to your own house?” Mr. Collins shook his head solemnly. “I hope you get arrested for arson.”

“That’s ludicrous. It was an accident.” Mr. Gregory didn’t seem worried about Zeke, but he didn’t look very happy either. 

The fire engine finally pulled in front of the house, arriving through the massive front gates, which Honey had just noticed were opened wide. “You unlocked the gates?”

Mr. Collins nodded. “When Miss Belden here told me what she thought might happen tonight, I thought I’d best be prepared. The fire chief and I are old buddies, so I knew he’d listen to me.”

Another siren could be heard coming up the road. The police were on their way, too. 

Honey moved away from the small group and went to find Dan. She saw him, along with Paul and Di, trying to comfort Fay. She decided it would probably be better not to go over there, so she joined Brian, Mart, and Jim, instead. One look at Jim’s face, and she knew he was upset. “Jim?”

He shook his head in response, his eyes full of painful memories. “She knew, didn’t she? She knew he planned to set fire to the house?”

Honey tried to defend Trixie. “I don’t see how she could have been certain.”

“Maybe not, but she knew all the same.” He scuffed his shoes against the ground angrily. “What if Mr. Gregory or Mr. Hunter decided to lock us in there? To trap us in a burning building? She put us all in danger. Again.”

“And we all went along, again.” Mart put a hand on Jim’s shoulder.

Honey puzzled over Jim’s reasoning. “I never felt like I was in danger. I mean, why would those men trap us in there?”

Mart disagreed. “It wasn’t accidental. With all those candles and that loose fabric hung all over the place?”

“And did you see how Mr. Gregory made sure one of those candles was near Fay’s elbow?” Brian turned to glare at the homeowner, even though Mr. Gregory was busy talking to the fire chief. “I bet he wanted to blame her for it. But I saw it happen. He’s the one that knocked the candle over—on purpose.”

“Yes, the fire was deliberate.” Mart shook his head. “She must have realized he was behind everything, probably to get insurance money. I should have guessed it myself.”

“She should have told us. She could have warned us, at least.” Jim followed Brian’s gaze, but his green eyes were focused on the curly blonde. 

“But she arranged for the fire truck—the stop at Zeke’s cabin ....” Honey’s voice trailed off, knowing it wasn’t enough for Jim. Knowing he was thinking of another night. Knowing of the nightmares he’d likely experience tonight and in the coming weeks.

“Forget it.” He turned around and walked off down the road.

She was tempted to stop him, or to accompany him, but she knew he needed his solitude right then. That he’d go for a walk, hole up somewhere he could think, or cry. She often suspected he cried. He never did in front of her, but the telltale signs of his red, swollen eyes gave it away.

Brian started to follow him. “Jim!”

“Let him go, Brian.” Honey’s eyes were filling with her own tears. Trixie had just driven another wedge between her and Jim. She wanted to be mad at her, too, for his sake, but she couldn’t be. And she didn’t think he should be, either. He knew her, he knew how she was.

“Let him go?” Mart asked, incredulous.

“You don’t understand.” Honey sniffed and rubbed her eyes with the back of her hand. “You weren’t there that summer, not at the beginning. Not when Ten Acres burned down.”

“Oh.” Brian worked his lower lip and then turned his gaze across the estate to where Trixie was still talking to Zeke. “She was there.”

“It’s just another case of Trixie not thinking how he—how any of us—might react to her methods.” Mart shrugged a shoulder. “That’s Trixie.”

“She arranged for the fire truck,” Honey repeated quietly. 

Brian nodded. “And he knows she has a difficult time explaining things. She just does them. He’ll come around.”

She watched the firemen maneuvering the large hose, smoke still billowing from the windows. The flames weren’t visible anymore, and even the smoke slowly started to dissipate. It looked like the fire department had done its job, containing and then squelching out the fire before it could spread to the rest of the property. “Let’s go home,” she suggested.


chapter 15: a new drug for your mood